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literary terms

The following list contains basic terms used in discussing literature.

character—an imaginary person that inhabits a literary work.

characterization—the means by which writers present and reveal character. While there are many techniques of characterization, the most common are through attention to a character's speech, dress, manner, and actions, as well as through direct statement by the narrator or some other character.

emphasis—stress placed on words, phrases, ideas to show their importance; in literature emphasis is often shown through increased use of figurative language or poetic devices.

image—a concrete representation of a sense impression, a feeling, or an idea.

irony—a contrast or discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, or between what happens and what is expected to happen.

lyric—a short poem emphasizing sound and pictorial imagery rather than narrative or dramatic movement

metaphor—a comparison between essentially unlike things without an explicitly comparative word such as like or as.

narrator—the voice and implied speaker of a fictional work, to be distinguished from the actual living author.

plot—the arrangement of events in telling a story to achieve an intended effect; while a story is simply a chronological retelling of events, a plot can alter, re-sequence, and select the events so as to achieve specific effects.

point of view—the perspective from which a story is narrated; generally, a work is usually narrated from either a first-person (the narrator refers to him/herself as "I") or third-person with either perspective capable of being all-knowing (omniscient) or limited with varying degrees of reliability.

setting—the time and place of a literary work that establish its context.

simile—a figure of speech involving a comparison between unlike things using like, as, or as though.

symbol—an object or action in a literary work that means more than itself, that stands for something beyond itself. For example, the skylark in Shelley's poem "To a Skylark" is both a real physical object and representative of other ideas (freedom, creativity, joy, and many other possibilities).

sublime—the effect of terror and pleasure produced by contemplation of the vast, obscure and powerful.

theme—a key or central idea conveyed by a literary work; the overall meaning of a literary work.


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Last Update: 02/11/2013